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Believe Me
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

The Fault in Our Stars
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language
Release Date:
June 6, 2014

Tracks
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo
Release Date:
June 27, 2014

The Boxtrolls
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Neighbors
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

The Haunting

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:1999

This high-tech remake of the creepy classic is dumb and overblown, but some teenagers will have a good time with it, especially if they go in a group. Its only possible merit is that it is too silly to be scary. There are some good special effects and a couple of “boo!”-style surprises, so it can be just the thing for those early parentless outings.

Liam Neeson plays a doctor who (contrary to any sense of scientific ethics) invites three people to a spooky mansion for what he tells them is insomnia therapy. In reality, it is a part of his study of fear. The three subjects are Luke, a surfer type (Owen Wilson, a bit less spacey than the part he played in “Armageddon”), Theo, a bi-sexual artist who enjoys being provocative but is basically good-hearted (Catherine Zeta- Jones, as divinely gorgeous as she was in “Entrapment”), and Nell, a quiet woman who has spent years taking care of an invalid mother (Lily Taylor, far from the indie films for which she is best known).

The house is indeed amazingly creepy, accurately described by Theo as the house from “Citizen Kane” crossed with the house from “The Munsters.” Every gossamer curtain and every gothic carving screams “watch me because I am going to come to life later on” and in that, at least, we are not disappointed. What does disappoint are the plot and the dialogue, which so interfere with the mood the movie is trying to create that they become the best possible protection against anyone — even a 12 year old — taking it too seriously. R.L. Stine books and even Scooby-Doo epsisodes are scarier.

Kids who are genuinely interested in scary movies should watch the original version, directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Harris and Claire Bloom, to see how subtle story-telling can be much more unsettling. Parents may want to talk about some of the serious themes raised by the movie, including the ethics of scientific experimentation, the role of fear in evolution, child labor, and the paranormal, but perhaps of more interest and value is a discussion of why people like to be scared in a controlled environment like a movie, and what is and is not really scary.

The Green Mile

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:1999

It’s pretty easy to make a movie where the hero saves the Earth from asteroids or blasts the bad guys into smithereens, because those kinds of battles give us lots of very cool stuff to look at. It’s a lot harder to make a movie like this one, holding our attention with heroism in small moments and unlikely places. Teens, who often feel that the problems of the world are too overwhelming to address, can learn from this movie that a small courtesy can have an enormous impact.

Paul Edgecombe (Tom Hanks) is a Depression-era Louisiana prison guard. His responsibility is the prisoners on Death Row, called “The Green Mile” because of the color of the floor between the cells and the electric chair. New prisoner John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is a huge black man convicted of raping and murdering two little girls. He is a gentle man with a mysterious power to heal.

Edgecombe treats the prisoners with kindness, partly because it is the best way to maintain order, but also because he is a fair and compassionate man. In sharp contrast, another guard is petty and cruel, and a far more evil man than any of the prisoners. The plot veers into melodrama at times, with at least one coincidence that is overly convenient, but the humanity of the guards keeps the movie on track most of the time.

Talk to teens about the circumstances and views of the world that lead people to these different approaches and the way that the movie helps us to understand each of them. What do we learn from the way each character sees the mouse? What does Coffey’s character symbolize? (Note his initials.) Edgecombe is confronted with a real dilemma because he believes that Coffey is innocent, but is unable to save him. What facts led to his decision? What else could he have done? Does he become a sort of prisoner, too?

This is a thoughtful, intelligent movie with outstanding direction. Hanks is, as always, the American ideal, just, kind, capable, decent. Bonnie Hunt, for once is relieved of her usual Eve Arden-style role, and her performance as Edgecombe’s loyal, wise, patient, and very loving wife is a pleasure to watch. Doug Hutchison is terrific as Percy, the nephew of the governor’s wife who is assigned to work for Edgecome, and whose combined arrogance and insecurity lead to disaster. And Michael Clarke Duncan, one of the highlights of “Armageddon,” is deeply moving, showing us both Coffey’s innocence and his dignity.

Families will want to talk about the idea that a person might have an extraordinary talent to heal, where that power might come from, and what the responsibilities and burdens might be. Must that ability be accompanied, as it is in John Coffey, with the agonizing experience of “feeling the pain of the world?” Can a person be a healer without experiencing the pain he relieves in others? Must a person whose entire existence is about healing be willing to destroy? What can be healed, and what can not? And why set this story on Death Row? The characters tell us that “What happens on the Mile stays on the Mile. Always has.” What rules are different in these direst of circumstances, and why?

Parents should know that the movie has a horrifyingly graphic execution scene, when the wicked guard has his revenge on a prisoner who taunted him. And they should talk to teens who see the movie about Coffey’s wish to be put out of his misery, which could be seen by sensitive kids as an argument in favor of suicide.

The Enchanted Cottage

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:1944

For Valentine’s Day, try this romantic classic.

Mrs. Minnett (Mildred Natwick), a widow, owns a small cottage that she rents out to honeymoon couples. Some people believe there is a magic about the house that keeps the couples safe and happy. Laura (Dorothy McGuire) is a plain girl who comes to work in the house because she responds to its special feeling. Oliver (Robert Young), rich and careless, comes to see the house and reserves it for his honeymoon. But before he can be married, he is called off to war and seriously injured. He comes to the cottage alone and bitter, to retreat from the world. Wanting to shield himself from his family and his former fiancee, he impulsively proposes to Laura, who accepts, but does not tell him that she loves him. He is so self-absorbed that he does not even wonder why she agrees.

After the wedding, they go back to the cottage, embarassed and uncomfortable. But the cottage works its enchantment, and they realize that they have become beautiful and whole, and deeply in love. They live in blissful happiness, confiding only in Mrs. Minnett and their blind friend. But when Oliver’s family arrives, they cannot see the transformation. Oliver and Laura are crushed, until they realize that the enchantment was love, and that it would always make them beautiful to one another.

Like the magic in the story, this movie is only for believers, but there are many cynics who have a special affection for what can only be called its enchantment. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery says in The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Many children will not have the patience for this story, but others will find it one of their favorite films.

Questions for Kids:

How do the writer and director help the viewer believe in the magic that Oliver and Laura feel?

Why doesn’t Oliver want to see his family?

Do people in love see each other differently than other see them? Can you think of other movies or books where this happens?

The Cider House Rules

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:1999

Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) reads David Copperfield aloud to his fellow orphans, letting us know that like Copperfield, he will let us decide for ourselves whether he is the hero of his own life. Homer, twice returned by adoptive parents, has become the surrogate son of the head of the orphanage, the benevolent Dr. Larch (Michael Caine).

The orphanage is a place where people come “to find a child or to leave one behind.” And women also come there for abortions — “Sometimes it was the woman who needed to be delivered.”

The movie is set during World War II, and abortion is illegal. Homer, who has never been to school, has been trained by Dr. Larch to practice medicine and perform medical procedures. But he will not do abortions, even when Dr. Larch shows him that the alternative is to leave women to take desperate, even fatal, measures to end pregnancy. They are unable to save one woman who comes to them after a botched abortion. As they bury her, Dr. Larch tells Homer that “she died of secrecy — she died of ignorance.” Still, Homer refuses, because it is illegal and also perhaps partly because he is aware that he and the other orphans were the results of unwanted pregnancies.

Dr. Larch is clearly raising Homer to take his place. But Homer hitches a ride with a couple who has come to the orphanage for an abortion and goes out to see the world outside the orphanage for the first time.

Homer gets a job picking apples, living in barracks with migrant workers led by Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo). On the wall is a list of rules, but the migrant workers cannot read, and they believe that since they did not write the rules, the rules cannot apply to them. They feel the same way about other kinds of rules. Mr. Rose says, “Don’t be holy to me about the law — what has the law done for any of us here?”

This is the theme of the movie. Many of the characters break rules, from the rules on the wall (against smoking in bed and climbing on the roof) to the laws of the state (abortion, licensing requirements, prohibitions on drug abuse), to rules that most people would consider fundamental principles of morality (prohibitions against dishonesty, betrayal of a friend’s trust, incest, and, for many people, abortion).

In some cases, viewers will think that breaking the rules was the right thing; in others they will not.

Notice that there are rules that characters take seriously, like the rules that Mr. Rose explains to Homer about how to pick apples. One of those rules, is to be careful not to pick an apple bud, because then “you’re picking two apples, this year’s and next year’s,” a rule which may have a deeper meaning to Homer given his views on abortion.

Families should talk about rules, how they are developed, when, if ever, breaking rules is justified, and, when it is justified, how important it is to be willing to take the consequences. Some characters in the movie seem to let life decide things for them, but others take the situation into their own hands, and it is worth discussing how to know when to act.

Questions to talk about with teens who see the movie include: What does it tell us that Homer was rejected by one set of adoptive parents for not crying and by another for crying too much? Why did Buster say that he’d like to kill his parents if he found them? Why did Dr. Larch tell the board that he did not want Homer to work at the orphanage? What is the importance of Mr. Rose’s question, “What business are you in?” What business was he in, and what business was Homer in? Which lies in the movie do you think were right and which were wrong? Do you agree with the doctor’s statement that adolescence is “when we think we have something terrible to hide from those who love us?” And compare the way that Candy lets life make decisions for her with a “wait and see” approach to Homer, who makes decisions based on his values, including the importance of having a purpose. They have very different reasons for getting together — he loves her, but she “just can’t be alone.”

Parents should know that the movie includes incest, non-explicit scenes of abortions, nudity, drug abuse, and a non-explicit scene of an unmarried couple having sex. There are also some very sad character deaths, including a child.

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